Bono on the warpath
Welcome to a brand new column - The South Africa Angle. There are just 190 days until the World Cup finals get under way in Johannesburg and, ahead of the tournament, we will be bringing you a weekly dispatch covering the greatest competition in world football.
As well as examining the big stories and highlighting some of the more bizarre snippets of news that inevitably surround the finals, we will also profile the key players who will help decide the destination of the trophy and bring you our World Cup quote of the week, so let us be your indispensable guide in the build-up to the greatest show on earth.
One story has been dominating the World Cup agenda this week: the end of Ireland's protracted efforts to secure a place in the finals following the injustice of their play-off defeat at the, ahem, hands of France. FIFA president Sepp Blatter provoked a bout of giggles on Monday when revealing the FAI had requested that the governing body extend the competition to 33 teams in order to accommodate the aggrieved Irishmen, who are unlikely to be any less aggrieved by Blatter's less-than-serious presentation of the thorny issue. The unusual proposal has been quickly shot down as a non-starter due to the proverbial can of worms it would open.
"We received a delegation from Ireland at FIFA and they were naturally absolutely unhappy at what has happened," Blatter said. "They know the match cannot be replayed and the decision of the referee is final. But they have asked, very humbly, 'Can we be team number 33 at the World Cup?' They have asked for that and I will bring it to the attention of the executive committee. But if we do that, we will also have to bring in Costa Rica because they believe, too, they were eliminated unfairly by an offside Uruguay goal."
Even the support of noted campaigner Bono could not convince Mr Blatter and his colleagues to artificially expand and unbalance the tournament. Taking time out from his ceaseless efforts to save the world (and apparently he is in a band called U2 as well), Bono called on FIFA to allow his countrymen the chance to travel to South Africa. "I think it would be a really noble thing of FIFA to do," he said. "They should allow Ireland to be at the cup." Despite such stellar backing, Ireland's last flicker of hope was extinguished on Tuesday. As Roy Keane said in such memorable fashion, it's probably time to "get over it".
BIDDING FOR GLORY?
In spite of the ongoing farce surrounding England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup, with Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards the latest figure to depart last Tuesday, the weekend was actually very productive for Lord Triesman and his rapidly-changing team. First, FIFA powerbroker Jack Warner performed the kind of perfectly-executed U-turn Jenson Button would be proud of by coming out in support of the bid, and then none other than Brazilian President Lula gave his backing. It just goes to show that the competition is there for the taking, should England get their act together.
The World Cup is not only about the Zinedine Zidanes, Franz Beckenbauers and Diego Maradonas. For the vast majority of players who embark on the qualification campaign, the finals will remain an elusive El Dorado, a stage of bountiful riches forever escaping their grasp. But Fiji's Osea Vakatalesau and Burkina Faso's Moumouni Dagano deserve recognition for top-scoring across the entirety of qualifying with 12 goals apiece, outgunning Wayne Rooney and Luis Fabiano, among others. "I was shocked to hear the news," Vakatalesau told FIFA.com. "My mum told me to go and get the newspaper, and when I read the news I was really shocked." They may never grace the World Cup final or lift the golden trophy, but these unheralded heroes deserve their brief moment in the sun.
PLAYER IN FOCUS: DIDIER DROGBA
Every week, The South Africa Angle will profile one of the possible stars of the finals, either in response to a stunning performance, a controversial moment or a horrendous error. To kick things off, we ponder the genius of Didier Drogba, who took Arsenal apart once again on Sunday. Ivory Coast's all-time record goalscorer and captain has 21 goals in 23 games in all competitions this season for club and country. Could he lead his side to the quarter-finals or beyond in South Africa? Quite possibly, if his recent form is any indication. For more on the man who gives Gunners fans even more sleepless nights than Mikael Silvestre, check out our brand new and comprehensive Soccernet player profile.
WORLD CUP QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Former Ireland international (and scorer in the victory against Italy in 1994) Ray Houghton is distinctly unimpressed by Sepp Blatter's reaction to Ireland's request: "It's a disgrace. They were laughing at the Irish public, which is shocking. The players worked so hard for two years to get to the World Cup and then some fellow's laughing about it and he's the head of FIFA."